Ice dam holding back needed water |

Ice dam holding back needed water

Cliff Thompson

An ice dam has formed on private land on a tributary of the Eagle River below Eagle Park Reservoir, east of Camp Hale, blocking water released from the reservoir from flowing down the river to the Colorado River – and catching the complete attention of local water suppliers.

The water was destined for the Shoshone Hydroelectric Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon, and because of Colorado’s water laws, if the dam isn’t breached and the water cannot be released, the dam threatens domestic water supplies here in Eagle County. As might be expected, local water suppliers are scrambling to rectify the problem, saying they expect to have it resolved sooner than later. But the situation has some serious overtones.

Water needed now

District Water Engineer Alan Martellaro of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, which oversees water use in the state, acknowledges the threat the ice dam poses. He says his office would prefer to exhibit some discretionary power while the problem is being addressed, however, rather than rigidly enforce the law.

“We need that water now,” he said. “If they (owners of the reservoir) are unable to deliver the water, we could force them to stop diverting. The ultimate goal is to make it work smoothly. We tend to use a lot more discretion (in matters like this).”

Eagle Park Reservoir, high above Camp Hale, is owned by Vail Resorts, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Their water rights are junior to those of the Shoshone, owned and operated by Xcel Energy.

Cessation of 4 cubic feet per second, or cfs, of water being released has created a short-term problem for the reservoir’s owners because it leaves them unable to deliver stored water to the plant, which has has rights to 1,408 cfs of water in Glenwood Canyon – more than the natural flow of the Colorado River in winter. When demand exceeds supply, a “call” is made by the holder of the senior water right, and those with junior rights either have to cease diverting water or they have to supplement or augment the river with releases of stored water.

“Bone dry’

Augmentation water allows water suppliers like the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District to divert water from the river for domestic and other uses when their water rights don’t allow it. But winter releases perform another important function. If prolonged cold weather hits, it could freeze the dwindling Eagle River solid, shutting off the surface water supply to the Avon and Edwards water plants.

“We could go bone dry,” said Dennis Gelvin of the Upper Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which operates the plants.

Dumping water from the reservoir is one way to keep the river flowing.

Additional water demands could come from the state’s junior minimum streamflow rights. They’re designed to prevent a river from drying up.

At Avon, for example, that minimum flow is 35 cfs, and the river’s flow slipped to that level three times in the past month, Gelvin said.

When the river reaches that flow, water users need to either cease diverting or augment flows with water stored in reservoirs.

The water district, meanwhile, also is releasing 2 cfs from the Black Lakes, atop Vail Pass. That water augments the flow of Black Gore Creek, then Gore Creek, a tributary to the Eagle River . The Black Lakes hold 300 acre-feet of water.

The winter reservoir releases will continue until spring; snowmelt begins in March.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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